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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

I (Heart) Huckabees (2004)

This is a tough one to write, mostly because I watched it over a month ago but also because I took a spontaneous break from the project that has 1) lasted much longer than I anticipated (especially in the wake of a planned break) and 2) helped me realize that my relationship to the project has changed and I haven't totally figured out what that means. First, though, I ought to talk about the movie.


I was really very nervous to revisit this film. I was obsessed with it when I saw it for the first time. It felt like a resonant note, ringing true with my soul, but also felt dangerously close to breaking me. (Resonance, not volume, not tone, not pitch, is what shatters a champagne flute.) I also avoided seeing this movie for a while because of how many people told me - in very odd ways - that I'd love it. For instance, my parents saw it in the theater, and when they came home and I asked how they liked it, they looked exhausted. "Not really," my mother sighed. "Yeah, it was bizarre," my dad added." "You would love it." There was something so insulting about the tone, and as little more than a teenager, the audacity of being known... I just put it off. Isn't it funny how we are, collectively, desperate to be seen and understood but the moment someone does, it feels invasive. Like a breach of the castle walls. Humans are silly creatures.


I finally gave in to seeing it somewhere around the time of my first suicidal ideation. I figured I might as well, nothing else was interesting. Certainly nothing brought joy. I didn't laugh at all during that first viewing. I couldn't. Not because I was sad but because it was too funny. It was the first time I'd experienced something truly sublime. Naomi Watts' character, Dawn, particularly struck a chord. She was suddenly unmoored in her perfect life and dissolved into weirdness, surrounded by people who professed to love her but refused to understand her. Lily Tomlin reminded me of one of my favorite high school teachers, Mrs. Johnson, who taught me that "everything is connected". I emailed her a day or two after seeing it. I watched it many, many times.


Time passed. I changed (yet didn't) and I assumed Huckabees was no longer relevant to my soul. Then there's the fact that a not-insignificant number of men associated with this movie have been culturally binned since then. David O. Russell is a garbage human who uses his status as a director to justify abusing women on his sets. These are the things he does publicly. These are the things that even his supporters acknowledge go on. It is devastating that he is responsible for a movie that speaks to so much of me. He was the primary reason I wanted this movie to not hold up. (It also hurts to see Dustin Hoffman now. I have always enjoyed his work. The claims against him are not as voracious or numerous as those against Russell, but they're there. And they're credible.)


I kind of buried the lede up there but I did, in fact, enjoy this movie on the rewatch. It held up. I laughed out loud, riotously, and often. I cried. I enjoyed the score (so much! And I'd forgotten how much I used to listen to it until it started to play and I found myself back on the number 6 bus, on my way to class). I loved the performances. I had forgotten just enough to really rediscover it again. "FUCKABEES!" How had I forgotten that? It's so good! I had not, however, forgotten Dawn's commercials. Those I think about a few times a week and they make me laugh every time.


But what I was not prepared for? The same thing that knocked the air out of me the first time I watched it:


"How am I not myself?"


Jude Law's Brad asks it at first as a joke. As a deflection. But as soon as the words leave his mouth, he feels them. (As an aside, and as a deflection to buy me time because I don't know how to articulate my feelings about this moment in the film... I realized while watching this that Jude Law is one of my favorite actors of all time. I refused to acknowledge that for a long time because, like most people, I first witnessed him in A.I. and that was deeply upsetting. But he's one of the most game actors working and he's brilliant and I'm so glad he delivers these lines.) Welp, I still don't know how to talk about this. I love the dismantling imagery in the movie. The little boxes breaking faces down and gently floating towards the little boxes of other faces. But nothing is more dismantling than wondering how we are not who we think we are. Who we hope we are. Who we desperately cling to believing we are. For me, who other people think I am (but I know the horrible truth...). "How am I not myself?" goes from musing deflection to internal itemized list. From curiosity to horror. From darkness to miserable light.


Embroidery hoop, fabric, printable iron-on, thread, paint, ink.


Takeaways:

-The idea for this one actually came pretty swiftly. I had been using a lot of printable iron ons with surprisingly successful results (the iron ons of my youth were always very disappointing) for the last show I designed and I had leftovers so why not? It was scary using my own face. My face I dislike so much. But it had to be myself.

-I lost steam on this as quickly as the idea had come to me. Today was my sixth Monday at my new job and I'm so tired. The job is wonderful. I can't believe how good it is. But I'm using parts of my brain I haven't used in over a decade. There's a special kind of exhaustion that comes from staring at a computer screen all day. This is Good Change, but it's Big Change, and I'm adjusting. (Can you tell I'm trying to convince myself?) This hoop sat, mostly in this state, on the ottoman for the last three(?) weeks. Today, it occurred to me that it is finished. Of course, being the headcase that I am, I immediately accused myself of giving up. But as a representation of myself? Of myself dismantling? Hoo boy. There's not much more on the nose than an in progress piece of art. I love that about the movie, too. It ends knowing that more people will be drawn into the lifelong adventure of trying to understand oneself.


As it languished on the ottoman, waiting for me to accept it as it is, this piece helped me realize that I have grown past the original reasons for this project. I started this as an excuse to watch more movies (not scroll on my phone through them) and to make a regular practice of art. I've done that, pretty darn successfully!, but I have to acknowledge that there was more to it than that. It was the height of the pandemic and I was scared of returning to in person teaching at the university. I was exhausted by my creative profession and while I got to express myself, I didn't feel like I had a voice. Art was something to leave behind if I suddenly died and something to scream into the void. I was miserable in my job and the project was an escape. But almost none of that is true now. I've left costume work behind, I have a new job that is fulfilling, challenging, and kind. When I put down my work for the day, I'm comfortable just existing, which is a new feeling for me, though still a little unsettling.


I have to acknowledge that I want to keep doing this project - which is all the reason I need to continue it! But I think the parameters need to change. I know that I do better with rules and parameters, though, so I still need some guidelines and I need to take the time to figure them out. Maybe it's every other week? I don't know yet. All I know is after the week we watched I (Heart) Huckabees, we watched The Princess Bride - maybe the best movie on the list and one I've been dreading "doing justice" for - and I nearly imploded. I was so stymied and so miserable because of it. I had to call it a wash and return that beautiful film back to the spreadsheet. It was nice to watch it, though.


There's also the matter of the blog. I like writing it, I think it's a helpful exercise in my Healing Journey (tm), but I am All Too Aware of who is reading it. And, frankly, who is not. And that's... not healthy. It's not. It feels antithetical to this process - or what it was? - and it gets in my head. Hell, my Etsy store gets in my head. Princess Bride was plagued by regular thoughts of, "could I sell this? could it rival the Muppet Christmas Carol piece?" and UGH. I don't want that to be how I go about all this. Hoping I'll be plucked from internet artist obscurity despite knowing I would not do well with any level of fame and I'd hate it.


Golly I'd hoped I'd have an answer by the time I finished writing but I don't. So we'll play it by ear. Last night we watched Sam Raimi's Spider-Man and I felt a little energized by it.


I just read a little Instagram-ism about how "play is the opposite of survival" or some such and gosh did I feel that. I've been surviving for so long, and like the tattoo on my left arm says, "Survival in insufficient." It's time to play.

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